Category Archives: GLBT fiction

“Sins of Our Fathers” by A. Rose Mathieu— A Mystery

Mathieu, A. Rose. “Sins of Our Fathers”, Bold Strokes, 2017.

A Mystery

Amos Lassen

Attorney Elizabeth Campbell was raised in the lap of luxury but has turned her back on it and has been finding emotional fulfillment working at a nonprofit legal clinic. Her parents are not happy about this. She has learned how to use the law to fit her needs and this has led her to work with a Catholic priest investigating the case of a simple man with the IQ of a child but who has confessed to a brutal killing. While the case has kept her busy, she faces a more serious personal trial and challenge that comes in the personage of Detective Grace Donovan who is determined to keep her client locked up.

The mayor wants to prove that what he and his office does is fair and he has asked various organizations that provide legal help to those who cannot afford it to have another look at cases to see if convictions have been just or not. When Elizabeth reads the case of Raymond, the man with the low IQ who has been sitting in jail because of the murder of a priest, something does not seem quite right/, put away for a priests murder, the case does not sit right with her. The more she reviews the case, the more she is warned to not get involved in it but she is unable to let it go.

Elizabeth is a woman with lots of heart and she follows what it tells her. In this case, she is on a fairly dangerous mission and we see that she has little fear. She wants justice for Raymond and as his case is reopened, murders start again but this time Raymond is locked up so we know he is not involved.

Elizabeth follows her gut and digs for clues, demanding justice for the perceived innocent man. As Raymond’s case is re-opened as the murders start again, same modus operandi only this time Raymond was behind bars. Because this is a mystery I am limited by what I can say about the plot but I can tell you that tension builds from page to page. I mentioned something earlier about a police detective named Grace and almost led you to believe that there is a romance here. However, this is not a romance even though there are romantic elements in the story. Perhaps the romance will be covered in a sequel.

I am amazed at how well this is written as a first novel. There is great use of details and twists throughout the plot making us turn pages quickly. It is very easy to fall in love with Elizabeth and to want to reach out to Raymond. Reaching out to and or identifying with characters is something that lets me know I am reading a good book. That is what happens here.

 

 

 

 

 

“Symphony for the Devil” by James Marcus— The Legacy Continues

James, Marcus. “Symphony for the Devil”, (The Blackmoore Legacy: Volume 2), CreateSpace, 2017.

The Legacy Continues

Amos Lassen

“Symphony for the Devil” is the sequel to “Blackmoore” which ended eight months before this novel begins. (It is, however, unnecessary to read the prequel to enjoy this but it helps. We find Trevor Blackmoore, Braxton Volaverunt, Cheri Hannifin, and Braxton’s best friend J.T. Oliver beginning a new chapter of their lives in the Seattle. Trevor and Cheri are starting their studies as freshman at the University of Washington, and Braxton and J.T.’s band is preparing to finsh their first album with Arcadia Records. Trevor’s mother, Kathryn Blackmoore, is now president of Blackmoore World Corporation and he has begun to enjoy being an independent and free woman in her late forties. She no longer has to deal with the curse of the Blackmoores and is learning how to live with her only obligation being herself. She, along with the others are totally aware of their shared lineage and the growing threat of the Dark God of the Wood and it is understood that faithful human and supernatural disciples ready and waiting to attack.

Braxton and Trevor, two young men find that their love (which is bound in blood and prophecy) understand that their love is the only thing they have to rely on to keep them safe. As they leave Bellingham and the ruins of the Volaverunt home in their wake, they are replaced by two other Blackmoores, Francesca and Mary-Margaret, one a beautiful cousin and the other a brilliant violinist who has come to Bellingham to teach Music Theory at Fairhaven University. She lives with her cousin and Trevor’s great aunt Mabel Blackmoore (Queen Mab) at the great Victorian mansion. Also there is spirit of Michael, also a violinist.

This is the story of family loyalties, deceit and love as well of those who left this world before their time. When the new residents come, things begin to happen. When a coven of witches is forced to deal with tragedy, Mary-Margaret finds herself being part of the world of Michael Donovan, a ghost, who has a plan to kill all of the evil forces.

This is not your regular speculative-fiction read but then speculative-fiction is never ordinary anyway. The novel covers more than a century and moves back and forth between past and present. It is here that we learn about the Blackmoores and their world. I generally do not read books that are based in fantasy but I so enjoyed “Blackmoore” that I was anxious to read the sequel. Marcus James told such a good story there and his story here is just as good if not better.

James has created unforgettable characters and these characters propel this dark story forward. The story is more complete than its predecessor and ends on an unbelievably powerful note. It is a big book coming in at over 600 pages and each page is a treat. I love that this is a novel about family written at a time when the concept of what family is has become fluid. It is very difficult to review this without spoiling the read but I can tell you that you will be surprised more than once. Not only do we get the chance to be reacquainted with our old friends from “Blackmoore” but we make some new ones here. James pulls us into the story on the first page and it is really difficult to stop reading from that point. Plot your day accordingly.

 

 

“From Top to Bottom” by Kevin Klehr— Becoming a Bottom

Klehr, Kevin. “From Top to Bottom”, Nine Star Press, 2017.

Becoming a Bottom

Amos Lassen

Tony sees himself as a “dedicated” top yet he wants to find out what being a bottom is all about. From that thought alone you know that if you live with your parents, this is not a book that you want to casually leave around the house where someone might see it. Of course there is nothing wrong in wanting to bottom but I do not think your Aunt Jane would be too interested in reading about it. Tony is worried that in trying out to bottom, another top would just get to without considering that he is novice and needs to take things nice and easy, at least, for the first time.

Tony is not alone in his thoughts. Butch is a bear who is willing to try anything and Ford, another guy is curious and is so willing to learn about bottoming that he is tempted to cheat on his boyfriend to do so. What all three guys learn that there is more to being a bottom than just anal penetration. If you have already assumed that there is going to be a lot of sex in this book, you are correct. However, this is more that just a book about anal sex.

While there is a lot of graphic sex here, its depiction does not come across as porn but rather a look at the “bottom” subculture. I can remember, and it is not that long ago, when men who bottom did not openly say so. There were those who felt (and even those who loved to bottom) that anal aspects of gay sex carried a denotation of those who are not as masculine as others. That has now fallen away and bottoming has nothing to do with masculinity but everything to do with pleasure. The “bottom” closet is no more. We do have to understand, however, that bottoming has nothing to do with BDSM (although that does not exclude it).

Author Kevin Klehr takes a humorous look at the activity and there is also heartbreak here. I have read other books by Klehr and find the same charm that I saw in his other books is present here as well. This is a light read but it is also far from fluff. Rather, it is a look into the idea of dropping labels and accepting ourselves for who we are. The plot is minimal and it is the characters that propel the action (of which there is plenty). There is no romance here but there was never an intention anyway (or so I am able to surmise). We meet guys who are anxious to look at sex by understanding what gives them pleasure. They form a support group to try things out and as they do they form friendships and learn about who they are. We need more books like this—-books that have something to say that are fun to read.

 

 

“Love is Love”— Honoring Orlando

Various. “Love is Love”, IDW Publishing, 2017.

Honoring Orlando

Amos Lassen

There are some dates that I will remember forever—the day John Kennedy was assassinated, the day I served for the first time in the Israel Defense Forces, 9/11 and the date the Orlando gay community was attacked and we lost so many lives. Now the

comic book industry has come together to honor those killed in Orlando. From IDW Publishing, with assistance from DC Entertainment, this oversize comic contains material from some of the greatest talents in comics that mourns the victims, supports the survivors, celebrates the LGBTQ community, and examines love in today’s world. We sense the love with which this was put together. We read here of parents trying and others trying to understand and explain what happened, of people dancing together and having no cares and we see the effect of unsuspected violence that took forty-nine people from us. Composed of shot stories that all share the message of love, it replaces no one, but it is something to remind us that there are still people who would rather see us gone and enjoying life.

“When the Bells Tolled at Midnight” by J.G. Hayes— An Ordinary Thursday

Hayes, J.G. “When the Bells Tolled at Midnight”, Create Space, 2016.

An Ordinary Thursday

Amos Lassen

One of the great problems of self-publishing is that many good books go unnoticed and that would have been the case with “When the Bells Tolled at Midnight” and that is a pity. Not only is it a fine story but it is locally set and written by the author of one of my favorite books, “A Map of the Harbor Islands” and a book that I have referred to often since I moved to Boston.

The story begins on an ordinary Thursday until Sean Sutherland, an orphan who is the ward of his uncle Justin, finds himself surrounded by mystery in the family seaside home in arbor IslandsHhhhh

Nawshant, Massachusetts. Suddenly bells toll at midnight and seem to be coming from “an impenetrable conservation area”. Then an elderly heiress hires Sean to find out what is going on or if she is imagining things. Sean, also, has never heard of a distant cousin his own age, Kyle Sutherland, who comes to live with them and he resembles the word “attitude” with a capital A. Then there seems to be something going on between Sean and his best friend Matt. This is a read that is pure pleasure as Sean and company (friends and cousin) discover a mystery that is more than any of them would have thought. It involves a priceless Revolutionary artifact, a missing John Singer Sargent painting that’s been ‘borrowed’ and not stolen and as very large Tina Turner wig.

Author Hayes has created some unforgettable characters here and we, like him, grow to love them.  Hayes has a mastery with words and prose. While this is a mystery, it is also a book about heart, truth and believing in and listening to our own thoughts. Because thus is a mystery, I cannot say anymore about the plot but I can tell you that to miss this book is to miss a great read.

“Inside” by Charles Ross— A Biography of a Magazine

Ross, Charles. “Inside”, CreateSpace,2013.

A Biography of a Magazine

Amos Lassen

Charles Ross’s debut novel not only gives us the details of what it is like working at a successful trade magazine. We read of the jealousies and the behavior of those who do this kind of work. There is a special lifestyle to those who work for a high-class luxury home design journal and meet those who get the best assignments and those who do not. Written as a bit of a mystery, the story has us turning pages quickly to see what surprise comes next.

Anthony who is an unassuming man at a pivotal time in his career narrated the story. He is an intellectual and sensitive man who appreciates love, beauty, and meaning over lust and he takes us by the hand and leads us into his daily life while he works at Inside Magazine. We go everywhere with him and occasionally step outside of the comfort zone. This is also a look at the gay community of the 1970’s in Los Angeles.

Leaf is Anthony’s boss and she takes advantage of Anthony’s visionary thinking and ability for her own plans. She is aware of just how far she can go and knows what she can get away with and when her position is threatened. Cole is the young and handsome son of the magazine’s owner who wants to be an actor (or a model or an escort) and he uses the family’s Malibu beach house for his own designs and really wants someone who will love him for who he is rather than how he looks. Tommy is the office assistant who seems to know gossip before it even happens. He has quite the way of saying things and remains loyal to…

We go behind-the-scenes view of the interior design industry as we read this addictive story. Charles Ross has given something for everyone to enjoy— there is murder, romance and suspense and the gay sex lives of designers, decorators, photographers.

 

“A Careful Heart” by Ralph Josiah Bardsley— Facing Life

Bardsley, Ralph Josiah. “A Careful Heart”, Bold Stokes Books. 2017.

Facing Life

Amos Lassen

An author whose books never disappoint and that I always look forward to is Ralph Josiah Bartley. In his newest, “A Careful Heart”, he introduces us to Travis Gaines and Stephen Davis, two best friends are very close can be. They came into this world less than a month apart and grew up together as neighbors in a small New Hampshire town. After college, they move to Boston together and are excited about the adventures and excitement that awaits them there. No sooner do they find their way around Boston then Travis meets and falls hard for Benson who is a senior executive at the financial services firm where he works. Benson seems to have it all— good looks, money and connections. Travis thinks that Benson is everything he could ever want at first but behind the outer façade is something very dark and that threatens to ruin the friendship of Stephen and Travis.

Beardsley writes to the emotions and once again he pulled me in on the first page with this beautiful story of friendship and brotherly love. We do not often find friendships like that of Travis and Stephen even though in some aspects the guys are total opposites. Over time they have really connected to each other and it helps that they had the support of their families. I love that they alternate as narrators and telling their story and I also love that we are with them as they grow and mature. Unlike other gay romances, we do not have sex scenes and I believe that if we had had them, they would have taken our attention away from the emotive elements of the story. The story is really about honesty and accepting ourselves for who we are and much love and friendship influences this. And yes, there are surprises just like we have come to expect from Bardsley. Good writing, an engaging plot and characters like people we know make this is a fine read.

 

 

A Doctor’s Confession: One Gay Man’s Memoir of Addiction, Loss, Recovery, and Hope” by Michael Frederick— Triumph Over Addiction

Fredericks, Michael. “A Doctor’s Confession: One Gay Man’s Memoir of Addiction, Loss, Recovery, and Hope”, Lightheart Publications, 2016.

Triumph Over Addiction

Amos Lassen

Michael Fredericks felt guilty about his sexuality because of his Italian-Catholic upbringing and the sudden death of his mother. He found himself with several addictions including vodka, Valium, cocaine, sex just as we was preparing himself for a career in medicine. He shares his journey with us and steps along the way involved detox and rehab, the struggle to maintain sobriety, the serial trysts and boyfriends and the eventual rebuilding of his life. We feel his sincerity and energy in almost every sentence as he recovers.

The book is fiction so it tells us in the disclaimer and it reads like a memoir and the title uses the word “confession”. I later realized that the fiction comes in having changed the names of characters and places.

The first five chapters are about a young gay doctor’s struggles with sex, drug and alcohol addiction. We immediately sense that the narrator is, highly intelligent and a competent, caring and compassionate doctor. We are reminded that during the eighties and early nineties, there was no specific treatment available for HIV infection in AIDS patients. It was not until 1996 that effective combination antiretroviral therapy was used thus making HIV infection a medically manageable condition. Some may be shocked to learn that a

young emergency room doctor would have sex in his on-call room at the hospital as he was treating patients. He was also using drugs at that time and shares that several of his medical and nursing colleagues were doing the same. The stresses and strains that come from the major responsibilities put on young doctors are difficult to cope with and drugs have been easily available. When his drug (and alcohol addiction) was discovered by senior hospital doctors, the young doctor’s license to practice medicine was suspended for a few years. He also had to undergo a long drawn-out period of rehabilitation, first as an in-patient and later as a constantly monitored outpatient. He shares all the details and describes well how he went about reclaiming his life and finally recovering his medical license. His resilience, determination and willingness to continue on in the face of this is amazing. He also shares graphic descriptions of sexual relationships with many men throughout his medical student days and early hospital posts.

He confesses himself that he is always wearing his emotions openly and in the Afterword the says that he wrote this “to help as many people as possible regain control of their lives and tap into their own limitless reserves.”

We gain insight into the lives that some gay men lead and become very involved in reading about the downward spiral of both drug and sex addiction. Because we also get the way the doctor followed steps to return to healthy living, this is an important read for those concerned about addiction. The focus is on both his healthy and unhealthy relationships.

Dr. Fredericks account of struggling with traditional Catholic/Italian values while being gay is a mesmerizing read. His fall into drugs and alcohol as a result and looking for acceptance is unforgettable and related with intimate details and we insights to what it is like to be a guilt ridden drug/alcohol addict whose only wants to be loved. He is very aware that he only one pill or one drink away from losing everything.

 

“Grandson of a Ghost” by Scott Depalma— The Effect of Suicide

Depalma, Scott. “Grandson of a Ghost: A Suicide’s Secret Aftermath”, Gaga Press, 2016.

The Effect of Suicide

Amos Lassen

Scott Depalma’s “Grandson of a Ghost” looks at how a family’s unspoken and long-lasting grief effected a boy born 25 years after the suicide of his grandfather. As Scott grows up but he does not see how abuse from his mother influenced his perception of the world, and even gave a push to his self-destructive behavior as an adult. After a catastrophic childhood, Scott moved from northern New England where he had had to deal with demons to New York. That was in 1985 and the AIDS crisis and the new wave scene of the East Village were in full swing. He comes out as gay and began a career in the magazine business.

However he still had to deal with depression and feelings of self-doubt so he decided to begin psychotherapy sessions in an attempt to save himself. Through the work with his therapist, Scott began recognizing and confronting his issues of low self-esteem, anger, defensiveness and isolation. He was soon able to accept the love shown by others rather than pushing it away as he was used to doing. He began to understand that love matters and means something. We are lucky that Scott has chosen to shares his journey with us.

This is Depalma’s debut novel an it is based on true events and we learn that his family is still devastated by the suicide of his grandfather when Scott was just five-years-old. His mother doled out relentless physical punishments and this abuse along with being bullied at school weighed heavily on him. In high school hand when he befriended his new neighbor, Tom, he understands his sexuality. However, it was not until he moved to New York to enroll in a summer publishing program that he felt he had any hope, best remedy. But it did not take long before the decadent nightclub scene and a shared apartment worked on dragging him down once again. His coming out to his parents and confiding in a psychotherapist were the first steps towards independence and the peace that he so badly wanted. Depalma is quite good at details and they make up for the lack of narrative tension. His prose is excellent throughout and while this is not a pretty story, it is inspiring. In the beginning this is quite a painful read

The book slowly and at times it is a painful read, but it later becomes quite uplifting and aside from the grandfather’s suicide, many of us have had to deal with similar issues as Scott did. I admire the author’s courage and honesty. We get a very real look at the consequences of a suicide, the ups and downs of life in New York and his coming to terms with his sexuality.

 

“The End of Eddy” by Edouard Louis— Growing Up Gay in Picardy France

Louis, Edouard. “The End of Eddy: A Novel”, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017.

Growing Up Gay in Picardy France

Amos Lassen

Eddy Bellegueule grew up in a poor village in northern France. All he ever seemed to want was to be a man in the eyes of his family and neighbors. From the time he was a child, he was different and this could be seen in his “sissyish” behavior. As he grew into maturity he was intellectually precocious and attracted to other men.

This is a sensitive portrait of boyhood and sexual awakening. Édouard Louis writes from his own undisguised experience and he does so candidly with “compassionate intelligence”. We are taken into the exploration of masculine identity as well as get a look at the violence and desperation of life in a French factory town. That violence includes racism and homophobia.

Louis writes of violence that hits us emotionally because of his force and feeling. I did not know what to expect but once it came it left me shaken. That is just what this book does—it shakes us as we are challenged to consider the nature of masculinity and intellectualism. Louis writes with the intellect as well with impropriety and we are never sure which is which. He tells us what it was like to grow up poor, gay and bullied; while we have had this story before, it has never been told quite like this. We totally sense the pain that Eddy feels knowing that his parents are ashamed of him.

While this is fiction, I understand that everything written here is true. It is called a novel because it is a literary construct . In reality it is an autobiography. Writer Edouard Louis has never forgotten where he comes from, no matter the pain that goes along with those memories. He gives a voice to those living in poverty; the members of the working class, those who he says are excluded from literature. We see them as the victims of violence but dare not call it as such. The working class is a creation of society and those who are in it deal with hatred and violence everyday. Adding his sexuality to this, Eddie had very little childhood because he was too busy defending himself against when he saw and experienced. He was attacked and rejected from not just his class but from his family as well.

Eddie managed to get out of his home when he was just fourteen-years-old but despite being rejected by his family and townspeople, he never rejected them. He was really too busy “creating” himself.

When “The End of Eddy” was first published in France, it brought about great debate on inequality and class in France and it will undoubtedly do the same here. We really do not want to read about poverty and the working class; this is not “the stuff” of literature.

Surprisingly, there is no self-pity here and there are no judgments. Instead we see the fear of difference in its brutality and forcefulness. Eddy’s voices comes out of pain; he turns the tables and he is the spokesman that was once the scapegoat. This is a powerful emotional read that is related poignantly and viscerally and is not likely to be forgotten. I found myself weeping openly as I read while at the same time turning pages as quickly as I could. On one hand, I wanted “out” of Eddy’s pain and on the other hand I could not bear to leave it.